09 Aug Rewarding Midwest tech workers for long hours: a recipe for mediocrity
CHICAGO—We’ve heard it so often that it has become “aural wallpaper”: If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.
Consultants across the Midwest technology arena would be delighted to work with your company to help you create concrete and measurable things that you can track as you run your business. For instance, they’d jump at the opportunity to help you with productivity, sales per employee or mean time between CEO blowups.
As technology folks, measurement as a concept resonates with us. Measuring things is logical. We like to measure lines of code, square feet per employee and the number of minutes it takes a call center dude or dudette to get a customer off the phone. So measurement pretty much rules business, right?
Here’s the problem. Way back in the 1920s, quantum physicists were already figuring out that measuring things does something funny to them: it changes them. That is, you can’t measure an electron without losing something. In other words, you can’t know everything about it that you would like to know because the act of measurement itself impacts the electron.
We should pay attention to these subatomic effects in our own businesses. When we decide to count something, we had better value it because that which we measure we get. Have you ever noticed that? It’s the unintended consequences law (applied to measurement inside corporations).
If you measure the number of new accounts opened and reward salespeople for it, they’ll open new accounts like crazy and let the old customers slide. If you measured and rewarded the wearing of green Polo shirts, your office would soon look like St. Patrick’s Day. If you decide to measure something, you had better value it because everyone else will.
We know that a lot of things that are important in running a company – the human side of the business, that is – are difficult to count. Very often our response is: “The heck with it! I can’t measure it so it must not matter.”
I’m talking about little elements like faith in the company’s leadership team, employee morale and trust in the managers. Hard to measure doesn’t mean worthless. Conversely, easy to measure doesn’t mean important.
Take a look at the Midwest technology economy’s favorite metric: hours worked.
Though it’s not universally true, the Midwest technology employers we know are in love with the long workday. The person who works the longest days – the most often – very often ends up with the corner office and the big check. But heck: aren’t those long days indicative of a desire to see the company succeed?
Well, maybe they are. Does it really make sense, though, to choose your leaders and other winners based on the number of hours their butt is glued to their chair? I can’t see how.
We insist that our top athletes get a lot of rest. We make sure our racehorses don’t get too tired. We maintain our expensive machinery with a lot of care and precision. In most technology companies, you can get fired for abusing the lab equipment. You can’t get fired, though, for working too much. In fact, you can get promoted for it.
I don’t see why companies would feel that insisting on the maximum number of hours from their employees should lead to greater productivity. Employees routinely hear in their annual performance reviews about the times when they worked late and the times they didn’t. Heroes are made of the people who don’t have what one might call any life outside of work. Is that healthy?
As the economy inevitably gets better, can a Midwest technology sweatshop expect to keep any marketable employee engaged?
My friend, William, works for a disk-drive company. During the summer, they have summer hours for employees. HR sent around a bulletin about the summer hours that said employees could choose their own schedule (except for certain core hours when everyone needed to be present).
The “core hours” were 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. This is not a joke! Like they used to say about Microsoft: “If you don’t come in on Saturday, don’t bother coming in on Sunday.”
Congratulations to the Midwest technology employers figuring out that rewarding people for working the longest days is a great recipe for mediocrity, apathy and resentment. Congratulations to those companies that measure what’s important and really delve into the harder-to-measure dimensions that separate functional companies from dysfunctional ones.
For the rest of you who are still stuck in “buttinchairland,” I wish you luck with your measurement process. Maybe someone can think of a way to calculate hours spent at work while thinking about the upcoming job search. That figure might make interesting reading in your annual report.
Liz Ryan is the founder of ChicWIT (Chicago Women in Technology) and founder of WorldWIT (World Women in Technology). She can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column Nine2Five, which appears on ePrairie every Friday, is designed to keep you up to date with career trends and advice related to working and managing organizations in the post-bubble technology world. This article has been syndicated on the Wisconsin Technology Network courtesy of ePrairie, a user-driven business and technology news community distributed via the Web, the wireless Web and free daily e-mail newsletters.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.